This Method of Boosting Workplace Diversity Looks Like a Massive Flop

People wait in line to speak with job recruiter

People wait in line to speak with a job recruiter. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

We’re more “woke” to discriminatory practices in the workplace than perhaps any previous time. And though most of our interactions at work are going to be harmless and innocent, things do go awry. Sometimes, that means you’re missing out on job opportunities, pay raises, or promotions. Discrimination can be subtle, or it can be blatant. But either way, it’s damaging.

We’re also experimenting with ways to curb it. Many employers have instituted diversity quotas or hiring targets in an attempt to build a more diverse workforce. Ideally, of course, we would hire or fire workers based solely on qualifications and merit. But that’s not how it tends to work out in the real world. Biases — be they conscious or unconscious — have a way of manifesting themselves. For that reason, a new method of hiring has been devised in recent years: “blind recruitment.”

This is exactly what it sounds like. Essentially, it’s a method that takes any identifying factors out of the hiring process, leaving only experience and qualifications on resumes and applications. The idea is by taking names or locations off of a resume, a hiring manager truly won’t be able to discriminate based on sex, race, nationality, etc.

Let’s take a look at the intricacies of a “blind resume” and then discuss whether “blind” recruiting actually works.

The ‘blind’ resume

As discussed, a “blind” resume will omit identifying information. Then, a recruiter or hiring manager won’t be able to tell much about you other than what you’ve accomplished. Your name, location, age, place of birth, religious affiliation, or anything else is removed from the equation.

This method of recruiting has been used for decades, though not on a large scale. These days, many big firms are using the process in an attempt to find the best hires. According to Fast Company, Deloitte, HSBC, and the BBC are a few examples.

But overall, besides recruiting the best people, what are the goals of “blind” recruitment?

Goals of a ‘blind’ process

Applicants lined up for a job fair

Applicants line up for a job fair. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

If it isn’t clear by now, the goals of the “blind” process are to boost diversity by curbing discriminatory hiring practices. There’s also the added bonus of hiring what should be the most qualified workers. The big question, though, is whether it works.

We’ll establish a starting point. Past research has shown people with certain names need to send out significantly more resumes and applications to score an interview. Of particular note, people with “white” names are by far and away more likely to get a call back from an employer. But Asian, Indian, Latino, and black-sounding names are statistically correlated to fewer callbacks from employers.

So what happens when “blind” recruiting is introduced?

The results

college students attend a career fair

Students meet with potential employers. | John Moore/Getty Images

It appears the process is backfiring. Though the goal of “blind” recruiting is to increase diversity, it’s seemingly having the opposite effect. That, at least, is the conclusion of a study out of Australia, which found “blind” trials, in which male and female names were assigned to anonymous resumes, reported the opposite of what was expected.

Specifically, a female name was more likely to land you a callback, whereas a male name decreased your odds. In effect, it’s the inverse of what researchers anticipated. As a result, officials in Australia are dialing back their efforts.

This isn’t the first or only study that’s led to this conclusion. And other attempts to weed out discrimination have backfired, too. One example would be the “ban the box” campaign in New York. According to a study published in 2016, banning the box — or mandating that employers can’t ask about an applicant’s criminal history — created more problems than it solved.

“The race gap in callbacks grows dramatically at the BTB-affected companies after the policy goes into effect. Before BTB, white applicants to BTB-affected employers received about 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants, but BTB increases this gap to 45%,” the study said.

There’s still more research to be done

Business team discussing discrimination in the workplace

A business team discusses discrimination in the workplace. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

There’s still a lot of work to do on this front. We’re looking at a mixed bag when it comes to whether these anti-discrimination policies are effective. Some studies, such as the one out of Australia, show unintended consequences. But others show promise with “blind” recruiting.

One such example was when “blind” auditions were introduced into orchestras. As a result, female musicians increased their chances of being hired by a significant margin. “Using a screen to conceal candidates from the jury during preliminary auditions increased the likelihood that a female musician would advance to the next round by 11 percentage points. During the final round, “blind” auditions increased the likelihood of female musicians being selected by 30%,” the study said.

Of course, music is a fairly specific industry, especially orchestras. So we’ll have to take that into consideration. But there is evidence these policies work — at least to an extent. Are there any other methods, as well?

Boosting gender and racial equality in the workplace

Colleagues enjoy lunch.

Colleagues enjoy lunch. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

If “blind” recruiting is ultimately a bust, where do we turn? Are there successful methods of increasing workplace diversity and stopping discrimination?

Nothing is foolproof, but there has been a big push for these methods and policies in recent years. While diversity training and “blind” recruiting have been a part of that push, most of the effort takes place behind the scenes. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. It isn’t easy (or even legal) for employers to state they’re only going to hire women or someone of a certain race, even if they’re looking to make their employee pool more diverse.

It’s more of an organizational shift than anything. By bringing the diversity or inequality to the attention of hiring managers and executives, you’re likely to see a “trickle down” effect throughout the company. Again, nothing is foolproof. But there are ways companies can take steps toward becoming more inclusive.

Are you a victim of discrimination?

Two angry businesspeople disputing

Don’t allow others to treat you unfairly. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Finally, what should you do if you feel you are the victim of discrimination? It goes beyond your gender, sexual orientation, or race. And sometimes discrimination can be incredibly subtle. But the most important thing to do — even if you only suspect people are treating you unfairly — is to document, document, document.

Take notes, take pictures, and talk to colleagues. If you suddenly decide you’ve had enough and have no evidence or paper trail you’re going to have little luck fixing the situation. Here’s your quick checklist:

  • Document everything.
  • Talk to witnesses (co-workers or colleagues who will have your back).
  • Talk to HR reps (but remember they work for the company, not you).
  • File a report with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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